Degrees Of Freedom: Booting ARM Processors

Any modern computer with an x86 processor, whether it’s Intel or AMD, is a lost cause for software freedom and privacy. We harp on this a lot, but it’s worth repeating that it’s nearly impossible to get free, open-source firmware to run on them thanks to the Intel Management Engine (IME) and the AMD Platform Security Processor (PSP). Without libre firmware there’s no way to trust anything else, even if your operating system is completely open-source.

The IME or PSP have access to memory, storage, and the network stack even if the computer is shut down, and even after the computer boots they run at such a low level that the operating system can’t be aware of what they’re really doing. Luckily, there’s a dark horse in the race in the personal computing world that gives us some hope that one day there will be an x86 competitor that allows their users to have a free firmware that they can trust. ARM processors, which have been steadily increasing their user share for years but are seeing a surge of interest since the recent announcement by Apple, are poised to take over the personal computing world and hopefully allow us some relevant, modern options for those concerned with freedom and privacy. But in the real world of ARM processors the road ahead will decidedly long, windy, and forked.

Even ignoring tedious nitpicks that the distinction between RISC vs CISC is more blurred now than it was “back in the day”, RISC machines like ARM have a natural leg up on the x86 CISC machines built by Intel and AMD. These RISC machines use fewer instructions and perform with much more thermal efficiency than their x86 competitors. They can often be passively cooled, avoiding need to be actively cooled, unlike many AMD/Intel machines that often have noisy or bulky fans. But for me, the most interesting advantage is the ability to run ARM machines without the proprietary firmware present with x86 chips.

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A Special Baseball Bat With Explosive Hitting Power

To make up for some lacking athletic ability, [Shane Wighton] of [Stuff Made Here] created a custom baseball bat with an explosive sweet spot, that almost guarantees a home run. Inside a custom machined bat, he added a piston mechanism, powered by blank cartridges intended for powder actuated nailers, that can hit a ball with impressive force.

Up to three rimfire blank cartridges are placed in the stationary side of the piston mechanism, and are fired by three firing pins on the back of the piston when a ball hits the front of the piston. The expanding gasses then drive the piston out at high velocity, hitting the ball, before it is stopped from flying out completely by a crossbar. The gasses are exhausted through the side of the sleeve, into a “muffler” machined into the front of the bat. The first time [Shane] fired the mechanism with two cartridges, it almost sheared off the stopping bar, and damaged all the other components and blew the bat apart. This led to a complete redesign, including a crossbar with urethane dampers and an aluminum muffler.

The results with the “upgrades” are pretty impressive, and a little scary. Batting distance was around 350 feet with two cartridges, hitting the ball off a tee to avoid putting a pitcher in the firing line. [Shane] did a lab test with three cartridges, which put a hole in the ball and looked like it would break the bat. He expects that three cartridges would allow him to break the home run record, but would require another redesign and will be left for a future video

We admit to being rather envious of [Shane]’s workshop, and the projects that come out of it. We’ve seen him create an all-in-one golf club, a robotic barber, and a robotic basketball hoop, to name a few.

Floppy Disks Still Used To Update 747 Flight Software

For garden variety daily computing tasks, the floppy disk has thankfully been a thing of the past for quite some time. Slow, limited in storage and easily corrupted, few yearn for the format to return, even if there is some lingering nostalgia for the disks. As it turns out, though, there is still hardware that relies on floppies – namely, the Boeing 747-400, as The Register reports.

The news comes from the work of Pen Test Partners, who recently inspected a 747 being retired as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The floppy disks are used to load navigational databases which need to be updated regularly, every 28 days. Engineers responsible for loading updates must perform the process manually on the ground.

Efforts have been made in some areas to replace the disks with more modern technology. As Aviation Today covered in 2014, legacy aircraft often require updates involving up to eight floppy disks, leading to slow updates that can cause flight delays. As anyone familiar with the reliability of floppy media knows, it only takes one bad disk to ruin everything. While retrofits are possible, it’s more likely that airlines will simply stick with the technology until the legacy airplanes are retired. Certifying new hardware for flight is a major cost that is difficult to justify when the current system still works.

Floppies continue to cling to relevance, even if for most of us it’s simply as the save icon. We’ve also seen floppies used as an even more inefficient method of data entry. It turns out you can even fit an entire podcast on one, too!

 

Split Keyboard Finder Stacks Them Up For Your Approval

Tired of a boring, single piece keyboard? Thinking about a change but don’t know what all your options are? Well prospective-keyboard-shopper, today is your lucky day. We at the Hackaday are here to facilitate the habit with two excellent resources for the eager keyboard shopper; [pvinis]’s awesome-split-keyboards and [jhelvy]’s splitkbcompare.

As indicated by its title, awesome-split-keyboards is an awesome list of split keyboards 50 examples strong. Every split we’ve come across seems to be represented here, many with at least an image or two along with links to more information about how to build or buy the model in question. If that’s not enough, the bottom of the page has a wealth of background information about building or buying your own.

But before making such an important decision it’s important to make sure the keyboard in question will be a good fit in the hands. This is where splitkbcompare comes in, providing a visualization of many popular split layouts. If we hadn’t just found awesome-split-keyboards this filterable list and wide selection would have been the highlight here. But what does stand out is the ability to generate 1:1 scale printouts of the layouts in question, even stacking them for comparison, allowing a prospective buyer get a hands on feel for what they’re considering.

Not enough clackin’ action? Recently we’ve been producing a fierce amount of keyboard related content, of particular highlight is [Kristina Panos’]’ series called Inputs of Interest. Earlier in the summer she even built her own Ergodox split keeb.

[Main image source: HeliDox by diimdeep]

Popcorn Pocket P. C. Open Sourced

If you miss the days you could get an organizer that would — sort of — run Linux, you might be interested in Popcorn computer’s Pocket P. C., which was recently open-sourced on GitHub. Before you jump over to build one, though, there are a few things you should know.

First, the files are untested since the first unit hasn’t shipped yet. In addition, while the schematic looks pretty complete, there’s no actual bill of materials and the PCB layers in the PDF file might not be very easy to replicate, since they are just a series of images, one for each layer. You can see an overview video of the device, below.

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HOPE 2020 Delivers Historic Marathon Of Hacking

Anyone who’s ever attended a hacker conference knows that the talks and workshops are only part of the reason that people travel from all over the country (and indeed, the world) to be there. The social and extracurricular aspects of these events are just as important as the scheduled content, if not more so. After all, you can always watch the recorded version of any presentation you missed when you get back home; but there’s only a relatively short window for drinking Club-Mate, driving a Segway at unreasonable speeds, and hanging out with other people in the community.

So I don’t mind admitting that I was extremely skeptical when it was announced that the Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE) conference was going virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially since the decision came just a few months before the event was set to kick off in New York. Trying to recreate the experience of a large scale hacker con as an online-only event is hard enough, but doing it on such short notice seemed like a recipe for disaster. Particularly for an event like HOPE that had always crammed the historic Hotel Pennsylvania to the rafters (and sometimes, above) with content and activities.

Which is not to say they didn’t have some interesting ideas. Since so many people were stuck at home anyway, they decided there wasn’t much point limiting HOPE to a single weekend. For 2020, the event would instead run for nine continuous days. Prerecorded talks and interactive workshops would start at 9 AM Eastern and run right up until the wee hours of the morning, often concluding with a live musical performance.

As founder Emmanuel Goldstein described it, the idea was to turn this year’s HOPE into a 24 hour hacker television channel that could beam a diverse array of ideas and opinions into homes all over the planet. Rather than pretending that the classic hacker convention experience could be fully replicated online, they would fully embrace the possibilities offered by the Internet and create something completely different. But could they pull it off?

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Building A YouTube Remote Control Worthy Of 2020

Back in 2018, [Gryo] built a remote control specifically for watching YouTube videos on his computer. It worked perfectly, but it didn’t quite fit the expectation one has for a modern media remote — it was a bit chunky, the buttons weren’t very responsive, and it didn’t feel as nice as the remotes that ship with consumer streaming devices. Looking to improve on things, he’s recently unveiled a far more svelte version of his scratch built media streaming remote includes a scrollwheel, color feedback, and a UI for customizing how it works.

It might not look the part, but technically [Gyro] categorizes his creation as a wireless keyboard since that’s what the operating system sees it as. This makes it easy to use with whatever media playback software or service might be running on the computer, as button presses on the remote are picked up as standard keyboard events. And the software easily sets which key each button on the remote will be associated with.

Inside the 3D printed case there’s a custom PCB that pulls together the ATmega328P, NRF24L01 radio, and TP4056 charger that tops off the 500 mAh Li-Po battery via USB-C. The receiver is also a custom creation, using a second NRF24L01 chip but swapping out the microcontroller for the ATmega32U4.

[Gyro] has done a fantastic job documenting this build in the write-up, and provides everything you need should you want to spin up your own copy. As much as we liked the unique approach used in the first version of the remote, we’ve got to admit this iteration is much more likely to end up sitting on our living room table.

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